On September 8, 1900, hurricane winds estimated at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour ripped across the Texas coastline of the Gulf of Mexico, killing more than 6,000 people and decimating the city of Galveston. During the storm, water swept through sea-level streets; destroyed homes and buildings; and wiped out electricity, roads, and communication systems. As news of the disaster spread, supplies for the residents left homeless poured into Galveston from across the nation. Clara Barton and workers from the American National Red Cross arrived soon after the storm to help coordinate relief efforts.
Rebuilding Galveston involved constructing a reinforced concrete seawall and raising the city above sea level, to protect it against future flooding. Seventeen feet high, and initially over three miles long, the massive seawall, now extending over ten miles, repels Gulf winds and water. Sand from the Gulf of Mexico was used to lift the city far above its previous grade.
Not long after the storm, the governor of Texas, at the behest of local businesses, appointed a mayor and four commissioners to manage the city’s recovery. Initially viewed as an emergency measure, the commission form of government was in place in Galveston for roughly sixty years. The “Galveston Plan” was widely imitated by other cities and became, briefly, a model for early twentieth-century municipal reform.
- To find images of Galveston after the disaster and at other times in its history, search the Library’s pictorial collections on the keyword Galveston or Galveston hurricane .
- Search the collection Inventing Entertainment: The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies on Galveston to locate related films.
- Find images of historic structures in Galveston, many of which predate the storm, by browsing the collection Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. From the Location list select Galveston County or Galveston.
- Find maps of Galveston and surrounding areas of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, by searching on Galveston in the Library’s Map Collections.
- Find newspaper accounts by consulting Topics in Chronicling America – Galveston Flood of 1900.
- For documents related to the relief operation, search the Clara Barton Papers on terms such as Relief operations Galveston